A definition of NWFPs

Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) consist of goods of biological origin other than wood, as well as services derived from forests and allied land uses.


Piaçaba is the fibre extracted from the leaf sheaths of the palm Leopoldinia piassaba Wallace. Flexible and water resistant, this fibre has been utilized since at least the eighteenth century for the fabrication of ropes, brushes and brooms. Its use for broom-making justifies its collection and commercialization today.

The fruits of piaçaba, which ripen in June-July, are used by local people for the preparation of "piaçaba wine"; the leaves are also used for the roofing of houses.

The term piaçaba, in Brazil, indicates fibres of various species. The most exploited is the Attalea funifera, a palm which grows abundantly in the Brazilian Northeast, especially in the State of Bahia and represents 99 percent of the Brazilian production. The fibre from L. piassaba, also known as Piaçaba do Rio Negro, represents 1 percent of the national production, but is considered to be of better quality due to its higher flexibility and water resistance. The piaçaba from Aphandra natalia, from the State of Acre, produces a similar fibre, trade for which is limited in Brazil; the use and commerce of this species is more important in Ecuador.

L. piassaba is endemic in the basins of the Rio Negro and High Orinoco rivers. The palm reaches a height of 10-12 m; the fruits are ovoid, the epicarp is purple, when the fruit is ripe, and the white mesocarp, about 3 mm thick, is edible.

The leaf sheaths are covered with fibres 0.5-1 mm in diameter and 100-160 cm long. The harvester starts by cutting the petiole of the leaf to access the fibres which are then harvested. Generally, two to four young leaves are left intact on the palm to ensure plant growth. The palm can be re-exploited four to five years after a coupe. It would appear that overexploitation can lead to the disappearance of the fibre, but not of the palm stands.

The trade in piaçaba is carried out by various middlemen, all of whom profit from the process: from the theoretical value paid to the collector, through the FOB value, prices are multiplied 15 times just for the selection and cleaning of the fibre, without any major work being done (apart from transport).

If one compares the evolution in price of the extractive products and that of cassava meal, the choice made by the harvester/farmer can be better understood. The price of piaçaba, like that of other extractive products, is irregular. Between 1990 and 1992, for example, the ratio cassava meal/piaçaba passed from 33 to 50 to 65. This means that in order to obtain cassava meal from his foreman, the harvester had to produce twice as much piaçaba in 1990 than in 1992. It is clear that in this context, extractivism is a receding activity as compared to subsistence agriculture. However, the exploitation of piaçaba represents a total value of US$10 million (FOB value), and, from a solely economic standpoint, strong pressure is exerted from the foremen to maintain the harvesting activity.

At the moment, the extraction of piaçaba represents a way of increasing the economic value of the isolated regions of the Rio Negro where soils are not suitable for agricultural production. There is no conflict with other activities, such as agriculture or timber extraction, and it represents an alternative for the small producer, providing that he can obtain better market access and thus avoid exploitation by middlemen. (Source: extracted and edited from Lescure et al., 1993, in Lescure JP. 1996. Rapport final du projet Extractivisme en Amzonie centrale: viabilité et développement.)

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Cork is the bark of an oak (Quercus suber), which recreates itself after each peeling. A few other tree species also produce a thick bark which has the characteristics of cork, but does not have the quantity and quality comparable to the cork oak.

Cork has some unique properties such as elasticity, resistance to heat and fire, lightness, durability, and insulation, for which it finds many uses in construction, in the naval industry, in transport, in the textile industry, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, packing, etc. The most important uses, however, are as insulating and flooring material, and for the production of bottle stoppers. The industrial history of cork can be traced to the discovery of champagne in the seventeenth century by the abbot Don Perignon, and, in fact, ties with the wine industry are still very strong. The world still uses 25 billion corks a year even though some spirits, like gin and whisky have not used cork since the 1960s, and a Norwegian factory has patented a synthetic cork made from ethyl vinyl acetate.

The source tree, Quercus suber, is a typically Mediterranean species, whose establishment outside its natural range, has not been accompanied by positive results in terms of cork production.

The largest oak forests are found in Portugal, where the species occupies an area of 660 000 hectares with an average production of 175 000 tonnes of cork, worth US$200 million. The second largest cork oak forest area is in Spain, where there are 365 000 ha of pure stands and 121 000 ha of mixed stands. In Italy, the species occupies an area of 101 000 hectares corresponding to 2 400 t/year of cork production. In France, the area of cork oak is declining and is presently approximately 43 000 ha with an actual production of 8 000 t/year.

In Portugal, the largest cork producer (about 55 percent of the world's output), the law specifies that cork can be harvested every nine years after a first peeling, which is made when the girth of the trees over bark becomes greater than 70 cm. The cork produced from the second peeling and afterwards is called reproduction cork and is mainly used for the production of cork stoppers. The cork obtained from the first peeling is called virgin cork and is used together with the cork residues of the production cork manufactures in the production of agglomerated cork with or without artificial binders.

The production of virgin cork decreased sharply in the last decades and is presently approximately 35 000 t/year, while in the sixties it touched 80 000 t/year. This is not justified by a decline in cork oak forest production, but rather by economic reason inherent in the costs of extraction, which is still done manually.

In 1990, in Portugal there were more than 900 operational factories employing about 14 000 workers. As reported by The Economist, a family firm, the Corticeira Armorim, controls around a third of the country's cork-manufacturing. The firm grew to its current sales of US$340 million because it spotted economies of scale. Most cork goes to cottage industries that turn out stoppers. Armorim, on the other hand, has built factories to turn bung-making crumbs into other products. In these newer markets, the firm is dominant, making 70 percent of the world's cork flooring and almost 95 percent of the cork-based gaskets that Portugal produces to seal engine joints.

The greatest importer of cork products is the EU (in 1989, 56 percent of the quantity and 57 percent of the total value). (Source: various, including: Direccão Geral das Florestas, 1990. About cork; Frison E., Varela M.C. and Turok J. Quercus suber Network, 1995, IPGRI; The Economist, May 4th, 1996.)

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Asai is the fruit of the palm Euterpe oleracea and other Euterpe spp. It is one of the most important species in the Brazilian Amazon, and particularly along river banks in the states of Pará and Amazonas, representing a main source of income and nutrition for a high proportion of the local populations.

Consumption of the fruit is close to 180 000 t/year, and the preparation of industrial palm hearts (palmito) reaches 150 000 t/year (representing more than 95 percent of the total Brazilian production of palm heart). This production is almost exclusively based on the exploitation of natural stands of the palm.

The palm is native to eastern Amazonia, and has its centre of diffusion in the State of Pará, where the most dense and homogeneous formations of the species are found. It is abundant both in the floodplains (várzeas) and in non-flooded areas, and often in association with the moriche palm, Mauritia flexuosa. Two varieties of the species exist, differentiated mainly by the colour of the fruit. In the red variety, ripe fruits are dark and purple, while in the white variety, fruits are dark green when ripe. Both varieties are used for the extraction of palm hearts and for the fruits. The white variety is less frequent than the red one.

Asai is managed in native forests, through indigenous management systems aimed at maximising asai production together with a number of other locally important NWFP producing species (as in the case of the management techniques on the Ilha das Onças in the state of Pará), and also under cultivated plantations.

The pulp of the fruit is used mainly for the preparation of juices, ice-creams and liquors. The juice of asai is rather dense and viscous, and is a daily drink for the majority of the population of the Amazon in the states of Pará and Amazonas.

The flesh of the fruit, which represents 17 percent of its weight, is a high-energy food, with an energy value and fat content greater than that of cow's milk and a protein content equal to it. It is also rich in iron and phosphorus but poor in vitamins, except vitamin B1.

Iron, phosphorus and vitamin B1 are present in the asai in a greater amount than most other tropical fruits.

The extraction of the pulp can be carried out either manually or mechanically. The pulp is then commercialised immediately after its extraction, at various degrees of dilution. Due to its rapid fermentation, it must be kept in a cold place and consumed within 24 hours. However, it can be easily frozen at -18° for transportation over long distances.

The market for indigenous Amazon fruits has been growing steadly in the past few years, even within the Amazon countries themselves.There is also a large market for asai in other regions of Brazil.

The market for palm hearts is also promising, Brazil being the major producer and consumer of this product. The external market is wide and little explored. The competition of palm hearts extracted from plantations of Bactris gasipaes can represent a limitation to the large-scale exploitation of Euterpe oleracea for palm heart.

(Source: Villachica, H. 1996. Frutales y Hortalizas promisorios de la Amazonia. Lima, Peru)

  I. Primary product II. Secondary product/by-product III. Salvage product
A - Immediate use Palm wine, sweet sap, fibre, thatch, fruit, kernels, bridges, nursery shade, pilings, posts, rafters, roofs, utility poles fodder, forage, press cake, biofertilizer, fuelwood, fences fibre, thatch, fuelwood, house plants, shade trees, bridges, fences, pilings, posts, rafters, roofs, utility poles
B - Cottage-level processing milk substitute, fibre, rattan, weaving material, wood, upholstery stuffing, edible oil, fruit, kernels/copra, nets, ropes, hats, hammocks, lamp shade, mats and rugs, rattan balls, chess pieces, bags, baskets, brooms, cups, fans, ladles, purses, twine, walking sticks, beads, miniature carvings, bows, spears, masticatory, cut foliage, seeds (ornamental), floors, walls sugar,/jaggery, syrup, charcoal fibre, weaving material, wood, floors, walls
C - Small-scale industrial processing soft drink flavour, industrial oils, upholstery stuffing, vegetable ivory, wax, hairdressing, soap, edible oil, inflorescence (pacaya), palm hearts, preserves, starch/sago, sugar/jaggery, syrup, hammocks, lamp shades, rattan wickerware, brushes, cigarette papers, coat hangers, bracelets, rings & ear rings arrak, parquet flooring, activated charcoal, sugar/jaggery, syrup, charcoal, fibre (coir), candy, ice-cream & sherbet, vinegar parquet flooring, timber, palm hearts
D - Large-scale industrial processing dye/resin, industrial oils, paper pulp, particle board, polishes, textile finishes, wax, soap, edible oil, starch/sago, fuel oil fibre (coir) parquet flooring, timber

(Source: D. Johnson. 1997. Tropical Palms. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bangkok and Rome.)

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